Dear Governor Abercrombie: February 21, 2014
We are writing to express our displeasure at your recent decision to dismiss Public Utilities Chair Hermina Morita at the end of her current term June 30, 2014. This administration has done little to give the necessary support and assistance to the PUC and your department of Budget and Finance, to which the PUC is an attached agency, has actively hindered their operations, including the hiring of staff. The shortcomings that you seemingly blame on Chair Morita represent shortcomings in the state system, complexity in PUC rules, and matters over which one Commissioner - even the Chair cannot fully control.
When Chair Morita arrived at the PUC, it needed steady leadership to provide guidance, direction, and restore public trust.That was no easy task, but Chair Morita led that effort with her quiet yet effective style. It also seems to us that Chair Morita is being blamed for collective impartial decisions by the PUC based on sound legal analysis, due diligence as required of the PUC by state law, and careful and considered attention to unnecessary negative impacts to the rate paying public. The PUC, in our view, has an obligation to act in the public interest no matter who the petitioner may be or may have as its representative or consultant.
We write this letter with heavy hearts because we expected more. In light of recent comments attributed to your office in a Civil Beat article regarding Chair Morita's apparent dismissal and the fact that a final decision has not been made, we respectfully request that you reconsider your action and announce your full support for Chair Morita by appointing her to a new term on the PUC and instructing your departments to assist the PUC in fulfilling its mission rather than throwing roadblocks in the way.
- Senator Roz Baker, District 6
- Senator David lge, District 16
- Senator Les Ihara, District 10
- Senator Kalani English, District 7
- Senator Michelle Kidani, District 18
- Senator Brickwood Galuteria, District 12
- Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland, District 13
- Senator Glenn Wakai, District 15
- Representative Della Au Belatti, District 24
- Representative Sylvia Luke, District 25
- Representative Mark Nakashima, District 1
- Representative Richard Creagan, District 5
- Representative Derek Kawakami, District 14
- Representative Nicole E. Lowen, District 6
- Representative Gregg Takayama, District 34
- Representative Chris Lee, District 51
- Representative Dee Morikawa, District 16
- Representative Mark Takai, District 33
- Representative Justin Woodson, District 9
- Representative Tom Brower, District 22
- Representative John M. Mizuno, District 28
- Representative Takashi Ohno, District 27
- Representative Cynthia Thielen, District 50
- Representative Kaniela lng, District 11
PDF: Full Text of Letter
* * * * *
Jan 22: Abercrombie to Dump Morita as PUC Chair
IM: The Governor has decided that the PUC isn’t toeing the line sufficiently.
Therefore Abercrombie will not reappoint former Legislator and current PUC Chair Morita to a six-year term. Her term ends in June and her replacement will probably have to be submitted to the 2014 Legislature for approval.
IM: The Energy Career of Hermina "Mina" Morita
read ... The Future of the PUC
* * * * *
Feb 19: Morita: Abercrombie Preparing to Dump me as PUC Chair
CB: Hermina Morita, who was tapped by Gov. Neil Abercrombie three years ago to lead theHawaii Public Utilities Commission, won’t be nominated for a second term, according to the senator who chairs the committee that oversees the commission.
Sen. Roz Baker, who heads the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, told Civil Beat Tuesday that she asked to meet with the governor after hearing reports that Morita wouldn't be reappointed, but he refused.
"He didn't give me the courtesy of a meeting," she said. "His staff came down and told me that Mina wouldn't be reappointed."...
Morita also says she likely won't be reappointed. "While I acknowledge the governor’s prerogative to appoint members of the commission, I am disappointed that I may not be considered for reappointment," she said in a text message to Civil Beat late Tuesday. "Since becoming the chair in March 2011, my mission has been to build a capable, knowledgable, fair and independent PUC to serve the public interest. Hawaii’s ratepayers and the utilities that the PUC regulates deserve no less."
...people involved in energy policy have said privately that the governor has been frustrated by the PUC’s slow pace in pushing forward his energy agenda. Some have also wondered whether Morita is qualified to tackle the increasingly complicated technical and financial issues associated with Hawaii’s energy policy.
Meanwhile, some of the PUC’s decisions have angered energy developers, some of whom are close to the governor.
The PUC twice rejected a contract from Aina Koa Pono to develop a biofuel plant in the Kau region of the Big Island, calling the price of the fuel too costly for Hawaii ratepayers.
William Kaneko, who chairs Abercrombie's re-election campaign, is a former lobbyist for Aina Koa Pono.
Baker said that she believes the PUC's rejection of the contract was a key reason in the governor's decision not to reappoint Morita.
read ... Not Willing to Squeeze Consumers Hard Enough
* * * * *
Feb 21: Not rehiring Morita at PUC dicey move for Abercrombie
Borreca: Blue Planet Foundation Executive Director Jeff Mikulina said Morita had been a critical player for Hawaii's fragile environment while serving as a Democratic representative from Kauai.
"Mina understands energy policy inside and out. Unlike many legislators who rely on staff or outside consultants for information, Mina is the rare lawmaker who immerses herself in the subject and comprehends every angle of it," the environmental lobbyist said in 2011....
"She is collaborative, well grounded in policy and she has the respect of both the energy users and the energy producers; she clearly has the credentials," said Sen. Roz Baker, Senate Consumer Protection Committee chairwoman.
"She was, and is, a good PUC chair and I think she should stay," said Baker.
Morita's guidance and the decisions of the PUC have not been favorable to one of Abercrombie's own: his campaign chairman William Kaneko, who was a lobbyist for Aina Koa Pono, a biofuel company.
Twice, Aina Koa Pono tried to get PUC approval to sell biofuel to the Big Island electric company. The PUC said the fuel price was excessive and not cost-effective.
While not commenting on the Aina Koa Pono issue, Mikulina said in an email interview that Morita's PUC has been strong leader.
"We have been impressed with many of the commission's decisions in the past few years. The Maui rate case decision last May was particularly notable, requiring the utility to return money to ratepayers because Maui Electric curtailed renewable wind energy in favor of operating their fossil units.
"They even went further, appending the decision with an unprecedented ‘Commission's Observations and Perspectives' that provided expectations of utility operations going forward," Mikulina said....
...when asked if he would reappoint Morita if he were governor today, state Sen. David Ige, Abercrombie's Democratic opponent, said: "I would reappoint her."
read ... Not rehiring Morita at PUC dicey move for Abercrombie
* * * * *